Mystery Shopper puts cat among the seagulls in Lowestoft

BikeBiz's incognito shopper visits Life Cycles, Streetlife, Bicycle Sales and Service, Mandarin Cycles and Halfords
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Seemingly a two-wheel mecca and with no shortage of cycling shops to choose from, sleepy beach town Lowestoft has plenty to offer the cyclist cruising the beachfront. Mystery Shopper wants to step outside the comfort zone, though, opting for a cyclocross bike for jaunts in the country, over a beach cruiser for lazy days on the promenade…

Mystery Shopper is sponsored by Rouleur Ltd, publisher of acclaimed cycling magazines Rouleur and Privateer. These are sold exclusively through subscription and IBDs only. For more information please contact andy@rouleur.com

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Halfords
Single-level and on the smaller side for a Halfords, this store had just a few staff serving the entire store. As usual, Mystery Shopper left with mixed reactions, though could possibly have left with a strong review had it not been for a slow end to the visit.
Upon entry to the cycles area I was promptly met on the shop floor and, based on my precise requirements, the assistant suggested I look at going down the buy and customise route. Recommending the slimmer profile off-road tyre and cantilever style brakes it seemed the assistant knew the cyclocross market. The best however, was still to come. As the discussion deepened a little, it was mentioned that some riders are turning to disc brakes for cyclorcross, indicating that the staffer had his finger on the pulse.
Once I'd been seen to, I watched the same assistant dispatch another customer with style and grace, quickly fitting a rear light, while discussing helmet compulsion.
It all seemed very switched on until Mystery Shopper approached the front desk with a further query. This time the assistant fled when she spotted my approach.

Mandarin Cycles
Again located on a high-footfall (tyrefall?) road for cycling, Mandarin has an extensive stock for most, from beach cruisers, to a Cannondale 2012 hybrid that proved to be a great recommendation to match my brief.
Two staff appeared shortly after my arrival and both began tossing ideas between them, settling on the aforementioned hybrid. Weighing in with a model bang on budget and recognising the opportunity for a few bolt on accessories, the salesman guided me through the bike’s perks, followed by some good upselling work.
Crucially and given my on-road requirements, the assistant explained the perks of a lock out fork and the specced tyre choice, as well as discussing frame clearance, should I modify the rig for harder off-road use.
The conclusion put the icing on the cake nicely, with a small discount offered for a deposit by the weekend. This is a fantastic way to close a sale, even if it is at the expense of a slight margin reduction, which Mystery Shopper typically doesn’t encourage. A business card, complete with details and the two price points was supplied as a further temptation to bite on the discount.



Bicycle Sales and Service
Found on the same road as Streetlife, though more orientated toward the service and repair of bicycles, I wasn't expecting to find much in the way of top-end gear here. Therefore I entered with a 'starter' bike in mind.
Met by two staff repairing a bike on the limited shop floor, ideas were tossed between them about how to modify current stock in order to give me a strong base to build on. Cyclocross, however, wasn't a niche that the store had heard of, yet both staff went to great length to understand what I needed to achieve from the bike.
Despite coming in early with the suggestion that I may have £500 to play with, the assistants were on the shy side when up-selling a number of components suited to my brief. Not for lack of trying, the assistants did their very best to tackle my distaste for grip shift style gear changing, offering me both new and second hand trigger-style alternatives. The suggestions, however, lacked clear reason in some cases and Mystery Shopper got the feeling that my attempts to buy into a niche second hand were failing.

Streetlife
Not far from Lowestoft’s busy beachfront, Life Cycles, like most others here, has a fantastic location for catching passing trade.
With a counter overlooking the entrance each and every customer through the door was met quickly, myself included. Having stated my budget, I was surprised to have bikes discounted to a fair chunk below my brief flagged up. It was these discounts that were sold to me, as opposed to the bike’s features, for the most part, and it took a short while for the features most suited to cyclocross riding to be flagged up and for any minor modifications that may be needed to be discussed.
I felt this experience could have been a lot stronger if avenues such as ordering in bikes closer to, or above, my budget had been discussed.
This was a ‘no pressure’ approach toward selling me a bike and while that’s preferential to overcrowding a customer, or over-complicating things with jargon, this was slightly too stand-offish, particularly as the conversation dried up.


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Life Cycles - Rouleur Star store
Perhaps the largest of the independent stores visited, Life Cycles occupied an industrial unit, achieving an extremely well presented store with the floor space.
In a first from Mystery Shopper's UK tour, signs were positioned at the door to deter muddy, or oily bikes trekking over the well-kept shop floor.
The assistant who came to my aid was rather generous with his time and went into great detail on what the store could do to meet my needs. The downside of this, however was the odd digression about sponsorship of certain tour teams and the occasional use of jargon. I did, however, admit to being a current cyclist, so I'll let the staffer off.
Singling out the in stock Giant, I was correctly advised that the larger manufacturers have snubbed the low-end of the market, so for a brand name I'd be looking at £700 and above for beginner models. This was backed up with good spiel about the strength's of the likes of Giant and Trek, particularly at this price point.
I left with a business card and directions of how to gain the best from the store's website.


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